The eggplant is infused with savoriness by cooking it in the sausage drippings. The technique used here—halving and broiling the eggplant rather than roasting it whole. Serve this baked pasta with a salad.
- ⅔ cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 large egg
- 8 ounces sweet or hot Italian sausage, casing removed
- 1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 (24 ounce) jar marinara sauce (Rao’s Marinara is good)
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- ¼ teaspoon ground pepper
- 8 ounces whole-wheat penne
- ¾ cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
- Fresh basil for garnish
Position rack in upper third of oven; preheat broiler to high. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
Combine ricotta, Parmesan and egg in a small bowl. Set next to the stove.
Cook sausage in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat, breaking up big pieces with the back of a spoon, until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Stir in eggplant and oil; cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant starts to soften, about 2 minutes. Stir in marinara, fennel seeds and pepper. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is very soft, about 7 minutes more.
Meanwhile, cook pasta in the boiling water according to package directions. Drain and transfer to the pan with the sauce. Add the ricotta mixture and gently stir to combine. Bring to a simmer, then remove from heat. Evenly sprinkle mozzarella over the top.
Transfer to the upper rack and broil until starting to brown on top, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve topped with basil, if desired.